My first (and only until now) encounter with the magic of magical realism was Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s 100 Years of Solitude. I was much younger (and naive) back then and I quickly deemed the book “unreadable” and left it alone in the list of “Books I just couldn’t finish no matter how hard I tried”. Ever since then I agreed with myself that magical realism was not a bite for my mouth.
Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children stayed on my bookshelf for almost a month after I picked it up for a friend and promised vigorously to read it and give my opinion. However, its time didn’t come until my friend called me and said she would be leaving and thus needs the book in 3 days. 3 days to read a 650 pages book when you have exams and interviews is not an easy task but I somehow felt I must read it before I return it. So i committed myself to sleepless nights, reading exactly 220 pages per day. And trust me, one page of Midnight’s Children is not as easily read as one page of The Hunger Games, for example.
The book is set in India encompassing the years before its independence from the British Empire until its partition into India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. In these turbulent times, Saleem Sinai is born and raised. To be exact, he is born on midnight the same day that India wins its long-awaited independence. To make this day even more rememberable, the Indian government announces that the children born on that day will be special and strongly connected to Indian history. However, Saleem along with 1,000 other midnight’s children are more special and dangerous than India intended or wanted them to be.
Even though the title is Midnight’s Children, the novel rather focuses on the life of one of them, Saleem, who was the first child of the new independent state. Despite that, Saleem is hardly a lucky child. As a midnight child, he has special telepathic powers, who enable him to connect to the other special kids. In addition, he possesses an extraordinary smell, able to detect feelings of hatred, love, fear, and despair. Through his telepathic communication with the rest of the special children, Saleem discovers a variety of skills, which if put to the right purpose can be beneficial for his country. Thus, Saleem starts to believe that he was born for a purpose, and this purpose is to unite the midnight’s children and to become a sort of an army for the sake of India. Unfortunately, he altruistic (and rather naive) plans are set to failure as most of his peers are unwilling or unable to grasp his idea. Saleem, on the other hand, is faced with the daily problems of his drunk father, his mother in-love with another man, his mischievous sister, and his own issues of growing up and falling in love. Moreover, his unique gift is more often a curse, rather than a blessing. Despite that he never fully abandons the idea that his birth must somehow be connected and important to the future of India.
And indeed it is. The ups and downs, the successes and failures of the huge continent are mirrored in Saleem’s life. Reversely, some of his actions have visible and changing effects on India. Thus, one of the midnight’s children involuntarily fulfilled the government’s prophecy – his life was to be inevitably connected to the life of his country. Midnight’s Children is not merely a novel about a bunch of kids with special powers. Along with the life story of Saleem, Salman Rushdie manages to provide a thorough and understandable picture of India’s complicated and turbulent history. Apologies to my Indian friends, but before that book I was completely ignorant about that part of the world and the wars and clashes that shaped its contemporary outlook. However, while reading Rushdie’s epic, I constantly found myself searching through Wikipedia to make sense of the historical mess, to research names of leaders and battles, and to distinguish between fiction and reality. In fact, Rushdie produces a literary masterpiece which both grasps the main aspects of Indian history and provides a comprehensible picture of this distant continent with its culture, beliefs, and morals. Rushdie’s magical realism is so uniquely presented that I, as a reader, almost believed the connections between Saleem and India. Rushdie carefully balances between reality and fiction, between the everyday and the magical, between the boy and the country and the result is a masterpiece, which tells you a different story about India, a story you are more likely to believe and understand than any other historical narrative.
What makes the novel difficult to read is the language and the amount of details. Rushdie is not an easy read, even for me (as I am used to reading in English for a couple of years now). In addition, the author indeed did his research job and sometimes history becomes too overwhelming and burdensome to bear. It takes time (which unfortunately I didn’t have) to fully grasp the magician Rushdie and his extraordinary talent. I will be rereading this, for sure.
Salman Rushdie’s novel was well appraised by readers, having won the Booker Prize and the Best of the Booker prize but also much criticized, especially from political leaders. One of them, the famous Indira Gandhi actually sued Rushdie for one sentence, which depicted her as guilty for her husband’s death. The political leader won and the sentence was removed. However, I believe Rushdie is not an author easily sanctioned or criticized. His other novels (which I will definitely be looking to read) are banned in some Asian countries. However, when you are willing to tell the truth, you must be prepared that others might not be prepared to hear it.